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Jason Hiner's favorite Android apps
Android now has over 70,000 apps to choose from. TechRepublic’s Jason Hiner shares his list of the best of the best (also see his list of 15 must-have Android widgets).
1. Google Voice
Google Voice is a service that is so useful I consider it one of the top benefits of Android itself, especially since Apple rejected the Google Voice app for the iPhone. It gives you a phone number that can ring to multiple places or devices and it allows you to access all of your voicemail and text messages over the Web. The Android app integrates even deeper. It can make outgoing calls look like they’re coming from your Google Voice number so that you can keep your real mobile number private.
2. Advanced Task Killer
One of the realities of having a multitasking mobile OS in Android is that you have to manage your apps so that they don’t hurt performance or battery life. Advanced Task Killer (or ATK) is my favorite. It even comes with a widget that you can tap once to kill all open apps.
Dropbox is a great cloud service that automatically syncs a folder of files between multiple computers (Windows, Mac, or Linux). This app extends Dropbox to Android and interacts with other apps (such as Documents To Go) to open the files.
Once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard (and it honestly took me over a year to do it), then these devices are great for note-taking, and Evernote is a great note-taking app. It is similar to Dropbox in that it saves data locally but syncs it across all your machines and devices.
For some reason Google doesn’t have an official app (for either Android or iPhone) for Google Analytics. The best one I’ve found on Android is DroidAnalytics. Another good one is mAnalytics.
6. Documents To Go
The free version of Documents To Go offers a great little reader for Word and Excel files. You can upgrade to the full version (for $15) if you want to edit files and add PowerPoint files to the mix. If you do want editing capability, I’d also recommend taking a look at QuickOffice.
7. Amazon Kindle
I never warmed up to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I’m a big fan of the Kindle mobile app. Since it was released I’ve read a lot more books simply because my smartphone is always with me and I can pull it and read a few pages anytime I’ve got a couple minutes free.
8. Places Directory
This is an awesome app for finding shops and services near your current location. From restaurants to movie theaters to medical facilities to taxis, this app is very accurate and takes advantage of the business information from Google Local. This app is better than the info you get from a GPS unit (or app) and better than any of the similar apps available on the iPhone.
I dig Tripit. It is by far the best app I’ve found for keeping track of all my travel itineraries. It runs on some great backend systems. You simply forward your confirmation emails for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and more to Tripit and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers.
Twitter is an amazing instant-intelligence engine and it was made for mobile browsing. Although there’s an official Twitter app for Android now, Seesmic is still the best Android Twitter client.
11. FCC Speedtest
I’m obsessed with running speed tests to check my bandwidth in various places, both to see 3G fluctuations and to check the quality of Wi-Fi. There are a number of really good speedtest apps, but my new favorite is the FCC Test app.
12. Astro File Manager
Another one of the great things about Android (if you’re a geek or a tinkerer) is that you have lower-level access to the system itself. Astro is an app that lets you navigate the Android file system.
13. Got To Do
There are plenty of to-do apps to choose from on Android but I prefer Got To Do because of the solid interface and the fact that it can sync with the online service Toodledo.
Many of us have contact lists scattered across various computers, devices, and online services. Gist is a Web service that can bring them together and even pull in stuff from the Web to help you stay up to date with your most important contacts. There’s an Android app as well as an iPhone app.
15. TED Mobile
TED is a fascinating event that features a meeting of the minds of some of society’s most influential thinkers. You’ll definitely disagree with some of them, because there’s a large diversity of opinions, but many talks are worth listening to. What I love is that they’ve taken the videos from their conference and made them freely available on the Web. This app provides a great way to access the videos. I hope more conferences follow TED’s lead on this.
Pandora is a streaming “radio station” for the Internet age. You simply search by an artist or song and it will create a running playlist based on that one piece of information. It intersperses an occasional ad between songs but the ads tend to be fairly localized and occasionally even useful.
If you want to impress your friends with a mobile app, show them Shazam. Ever hear a song being played at a store or on the radio and ask yourself, “Oh, what song is that?” That’s where Shazam comes in. Just hit the button and let it listen for 15 seconds, query its database, and then return the name of artist and the song. It has about an 80% success rate.
18. Dial Zero
Are you one of those people who dials a customer service line and just keeps pressing zero until you get to talk to a real person? Then Dial Zero is your new friend. This app provides a directory of a ton of U.S. businesses and gives you numbers to help you get closer to a real person and instructions for which prompts to hit to speak to a human being as quickly as possible.
19. Google Goggles
This is a fun app that is a little but ahead of its time. It does visual searches. You can take pictures of things and then the app tries to tell you what they are. It’s limited in its scope but it is pretty cool, and it’s definitely a peek into the future. One of the coolest features is the ability to take pictures of text in a foreign language and let that app translate for you. In a foreign country, this can help you read street signs and avoid going into the wrong bathroom. 🙂
20. Google SkyMap
Ever look up at the night sky and try to tell your kids the name of that constellation you’re pointing at, or try to remember which planet that is in the southern sky? Google SkyMap lets you point your smartphone at it and get the information. This is part of a new breed of apps called “Augmented Reality” apps that layer digital information on top of real world experiences.
A lot of geeks I know like to say that our smartphones are becoming more and more like the Tricorders on Star Trek. Well, here’s a fun app that turns your Android device into a virtual Tricorder. It even offers some useful environmental information, including GPS data, wireless data, and ambient sound measurements.
Honestly, the camera software on Android is an area where major improvements are needed, but this app is a great example of what’s possible. It has solid camera controls, full customization options, and offers some great effects for photos.
23. Photoshop Mobile
Photoshop is, of course, the best known photo editor in the world and its mobile app doesn’t do anything to hurt that reputation. But while the desktop version is know for having a zillion features, the mobile app is distinguished by its simplicity. It’s the best Android (and iPhone) photo editing app for simple crops, brightness adjustments, and sharpens, for example.
Bump is a fun (and useful) idea for sharing info between two phones using the accelerometer, and it works across Android and iPhone. You can use it to share contact info (yours and others), photos, and apps. You both simply open the Bump app, choose what you to share, and then hold the phones in your hands and bump your hands together.
25. Barcode Scanner
This app turns the Android camera into a barcode scanner. You simply scan a product’s UPC code and let the app go to work to find it in Google Product Search or a search on the open Web. You’ll be amazed at how fast it works. This is great for when you’re shopping retail and you want to check the price of a product online before buying to make sure you’re paying a fair price.